Founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and the Virgin Group
The person who had the biggest impact on me was Freddie Laker. He had been an aviator involved in the Berlin airlift and had made his money flying goods into Berlin at the end of World War II. He started a low-cost airline [Laker Airways, in 1966] that flew over the Atlantic. He was forced out of business by British Airways. I don't know whether I would have gone into the airline business without seeing what happened to him. He was a very charismatic figure. He was taking on the big guys. He would fly his own planes. He created a lot of excitement.
At the time, I was running a little record company; I was about 17 years old. The first time I met him was some years later. I was thinking about setting up my own airline. He gave me this advice: "You'll never have the advertising power to outspend British Airways. You are going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won't survive."
The other advice he gave me: "They [British Airways] will use every trick in the book [against you]. When that happens, three words matter. Only three words, and you've got to use them: Sue the bastards!"
I suspect if I hadn't sued British Airways [in 1992], Virgin Atlantic wouldn't have survived. And if I hadn't used myself to advertise the airline, then it also wouldn't have survived.
I named one of my airplanes after him: the Sir Freddie.
What happens when you ask 21 luminaries from all walks for the one piece of advice that got them to where they are today?
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